My husband Don & I were in Southern California for a foreign exchange conference.We stayed an extra week and met amazing local survivors. Our adventure started in San Diego where we met with Rabbi Michael Samuel. Rabbi's father is a survivor and his story is found in my book, A Walk With Esther.
In San Diego we met Ruth Sax who survived four concentration camps. She has spoken in that region for many years but her most exotic speaking engagement was when the Barnum & Bailey circus was in town. The children of the performers (from all over the world) requested she tell them her story. Afterward, their Italian teacher introduced Ruth to a circus elephant who proceeded to take a paintbrush and make her an art piece. All the children signed it with their appreciation and it hangs in her bedroom today. She's the only person I know with framed art from an pachyderm artist. An elephant never forgets and neither will these precious children.
We spent time with Roz Goldstine who is a survivor of sorts since her father lost his twin sister in the Holocaust. If he had not come to America, he may have perished in Europe too. Roz's sister Ida Kramer was my mentor and she passed away earlier this year. It was special spending time with her sister since I miss Ida dearly. Roz introduced me to Holocaust educators at Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles and at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. We had a wonderful time sharing A BOOK by ME. Thanks Roz for schlepping us all over town!
Don & I met with Celina Karp-Biniaz who was saved (along with her parents) by Oskar Schindler. The Karp's immigrated to Des Moines, Iowa where her uncle lived. Our timing was perfect as Celina has just returned from Poland where she attended the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. She showed me her treasured engraved souvenir given to her at the event. The image of the gates of Auschwitz was on the front and back. As I held it in my hand, I was in awe that over 100 survivors were able to go to this historic event. I was honored just to have her share and to see this treasure with my own eyes. Celina's grandson played as a musician for this occasion. As you would expect, she was so proud that he shared his talents with the survivors there. You can read about his performance here.
Lastly, we met with actor Curt Lowens. I met him two years ago when I was in Los Angeles and found him to be one of the most charming men I've ever met. Curt has acted with such greats as George C. Scott, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood and more. But it was heroic deeds during the war that we discussed over lunch. As part of the Dutch underground, Curt saved over 100 Jewish children from Nazi death camps. In addition, he saw two American soldiers parachute down after their plane was hit. Thankfully, he got to them before the Nazis. He was able to hide and protect them. They were friends for life but the soldiers are gone now. Recently, Curt's Rabbi honored him with an event where he flew in one of the Jewish children saved by Curt's work in the underground and a child of one of the American soldiers.
Curt & Hilary Helstein
Another friend, Hilary Helstein, joined us for lunch. Her documentary entitled As Seen Through These Eyes is amazing. Hilary works tirelessly on the Jewish Film Festival in LA.
It was truly an amazing trip to Southern California and like the elephant in Ruth's story, we won't forget those we met.